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Posted on: Wednesday, 30 October 2013

10 reasons to head to the Karoo Heartland

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The Karoo Heartland lies at the heart of South Africa. Threatened with imminent fracking, this beautiful, water-strapped and desolate area is a series of mountains, vast plains, star studded skies, farmland, idiosyncratic little dorps reminiscent of yesteryear and space – lots of it.

You may intend heading off in that direction, a mere couple of days at your disposal to take in the towns of Aberdeen, Cradock, Dordrecht, Graaff-Reinet, Nieu-Bethesda, Somerset East and similar, but I should warn you: they do things SLOW in the Karoo…

If it isn’t the heat then the people will get you. And if they don’t get to you, then the sheer majesty of the Valley of Desolation at dawn will stupify you, so that by the time you’re ready to leave you’ll barely manage a shuffle to the car, and packing the boot will take all morning.

 

karoo-heartland-03

 

But here are 10 motives to get you going:

EXPLORE NIEU-BETHESDA

Nothing seems to spoil this little town that, thank goodness, is far enough away from a major city (the closest town is Graaff-Reinet and that’s 60km away) that it retains its sand roads, lack of pretension and more than pleasant residents. Its tree-lined streets are flanked with quintessential Karoo cottages, some of which double as art galleries, little shops and restaurants. Nieu-Bethesda is a retreat for artists, crafters and other creative spirits and its rustic charm will get you every time. » Explore here: Nieu Bethesda Attractions / Accommodation in Nieu-Bethesda

VISIT THE OWL HOUSE

Nieu-Bethesda would not quite be the ‘on the map’ town that it is today without the Owl House – Helen Martin’s home filled with her intriguing sculpture in concrete and glass. The mythical and fantastical statues (a mix of owls, and biblical characters) that dominate the Camel Yard and the house that was her family home get diverse reactions. Whatever your view the visit will not leave you unmoved. » Start here: The Owl House

 

Outside the Owl House

TAKE IN THE GAME AT MOUNTAIN ZEBRA NATIONAL PARK

One of South Africa’s best kept secrets, the Mountain Zebra National Park, roughly 12 km from Cradock, is surrounded by mountains (often capped with snow in winter), its grass filled plains alive with zebras (and other game). The beauty of the place will have you wondering how it has managed to remain so low-key. The rather rustic picnic site and walking trails simply add to the appeal. Come here to picnic and self-drive through the reserve. » Mountain Zebra National Park

SOAK IN THE VIEWS FROM THE CLIFF FACE AT THE VALLEY OF DESOLATION

Stand on the dolerite spears of the sheer cliff-face – a product of volcanic and erosive forces that took almost 100 million years to form – and look out across the valley. At any time of day the view is breathtaking. Set in the heart of the Camdeboo National Park, the Valley of Desolation is a national monument. The drive up here is beautiful. Take a picnic or sundowners. » The Valley of Desolation

 

Compassburg

 

HIKE THE BUSHMAN TRAIL NEAR TARKASTAD

Not a difficult trail at all, this 6 km hike is set in the Commando Drift Nature Reserve restcamp near Tarkastad. Great for the whole family, it will take you roughly two hours to complete and takes in the Kommandodrif dam and Palingkloof. Expect stunning views. » Bushmans Trail

PICK UP A PAIR OF SHEEPSKIN SLIPPERS AT DAGGABOER FARM STALL

Home of the handmade sheepskin slipper, this is also THE spot to pick up a filled or plain roosterkoek (grill cake) – a traditional South African bread cooked over the coals on a grid – something like the America griddle cake, but not quite. Look out for mohair blankets, gingerbeer and honey. » Daggaboer Farm Stall

 

Mountain Zebra National Park

 

VISIT EGG ROCK

A fascinating tourist attraction on Queenstown Road not far from Cradock, Egg Rock stands 10 metres high and weighs in at about 488 tons. What makes it rather more than just a big rock is its egg shape and the piece missing from the back, where it was struck by lightening in 1937. » Egg Rock

SOAK UP GRAAFF-REINET’S CULTURAL LIFE AT THE JOHN RUPERT THEATRE

Run by a group of volunteers who screen films twice a month, there are also regular plays, musical performances, comedy and dance to be had at the John Rupert Theatre that used to be a congregational mission church before it was bought and restored by Anton Rupert, and then handed over to the community for use. » John Rupert Theatre

 

Graaff-Reinet

 

VISIT OLIVE SCHREINER’S HOUSE

Best known as the author of The Story of an African Farm, which was a best seller as soon as it was published in 1883, Olive Schreiner was also active in politics and lived in Cradock. Her family home is now a national monument and houses all of her books as well as her own personal collection. A fascinating space; not to be missed. » Olive Schreiner House

MOHAIR EXPERIENCE MUSEUM

A visit to the Karoo would be incomplete without some introduction to mohair, given that the Jansenville farming district is steeped in Angora goats. Not only do they farm wool and meat but the district makes mohair products. » Mohair Experience Museum

KAROO HEARTLAND PAGES

Karoo Heartland Attractions
Karoo Heartland Accommodation
Eastern Cape Accommodation
Accommodation in South Africa

 

Reinet House in Graaff-Reinet

Wanda Coustas

About 

Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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